MANILA - The Bureau of Immigration (BI) reported on Monday that 85 percent of Filipinos who arrived in the country on the first day of December are overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and balikbayans (returning Filipinos).
"Of the more than 6,000 arrivals during the first day of December, majority are Filipinos. While the numbers remain relatively low, we expect it to slowly rise as we near Christmas and New Year," Commissioner Jaime Morente said in a statement.
In December last year, only around 152,000 passengers entered the country.
Morente, however, is optimistic that the arrivals for the holiday season will increase despite the travel restrictions implemented due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) Omicron variant.
"We see that domestic travel is, little by little, bouncing back, and we see the same coming soon for the international travel sector," he said.
Morente added that several measures are in place to prepare for the possible rise of arrivals for the Christmas season.
The new testing and quarantine protocols for arriving international passengers from countries, territories, and jurisdictions in the "green" and "yellow" list took effect on Dec. 3, in the wake of the Omicron variant threat.
Passengers coming from these states are required to submit a negative RT-PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) test conducted within 72 hours prior to departure from the country of origin.
Travelers will undergo facility-based quarantine and will undergo testing on the fifth day for fully vaccinated travelers and on the seventh day for unvaccinated and partially vaccinated travelers.
They shall be required to undergo home quarantine up to the 14th day from the date of arrival even if they test negative for Covid-19.
Meanwhile, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, and Italy had been placed under the country's red list.
Countries on the red list are deemed high-risk areas for Covid-19 and travelers from these countries are temporarily barred from entering the Philippines.
Except for Filipinos returning via special repatriation and "Bayanihan flights", all inbound international travelers from these nations are barred from entering the Philippines.
On the other hand, lawyer Carlos Capulong, BI port operations head said Filipino passengers may now pass through the e-gates installed at the immigration arrival areas of all three terminals of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and at the Clark International Airport (CIA) in Angeles City to prioritize arriving OFWs who are expected to arrive this December.
He added that the reopening of the e-gates was earlier ordered by Morente who wanted the project relaunched in time for the Christmas holiday break when an influx of international travelers is anticipated.
Earlier, the bureau said that the e-gates cut the processing time for passengers from the present 45 seconds to as low as eight seconds.
Apart from the relaunch of the e-gates, frontline personnel have been disallowed from filing vacation leaves during the holiday season.
Launched in August 2018, the e-gates were in operation until March last year when the Covid-19 pandemic prompted the bureau to suspend the scheme.
Additional immigration officers have also been hired to augment manpower, and a rapid response team composed of officers deployed in back-end offices was activated to serve as added manpower if needed. (PNA)